Commercial art is an area that's fascinated me for years. It's also an area that's been largely overlooked by collectors, even though some of the work is every bit as impressive as material produced by conventional artists. And that brings me to the late Bern Hill. Like most folks, my introduction to Hill came through a July 2007 episode of Antiques Road Show. You can see the four minute segment via the attached link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/archive/200704A52.html 

 

I was simply dumbfounded by Hill's work, quickly going on line and grabbing a couple of his posters. Within a matter of days, on-line prices for his railway posters literally exploded. A poster I paid $300 for was suddenly up in the $800 range. Damn that Antiques Roadshow ! Other than what I learned from the Roadshow episode and a couple of short on-line bios, I can't tell you a great deal about Hill. He was born in 1911 and died in 1977.   As far as I can tell, there's no online bio for the man, so here are the few tidbits I've been able to collect.  He was trained as an illustrator and worked for a series of New York-based outfits including Peter Wolf Design where he worked on stage show and opera stage sets; Leisure and Recreation Concepts which specialized in designing theme parks, and Prelim and Associates where he focused on architectural drawings.  Hill also worked as a free-lance illustrator and painter with some of his bigger clients included Electro-Motive (a manufacturer of locomotives), The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, and American Airlines.   I'm sure someone out there has more information ...

 

I don't have an art background, so I can't provide a technical description of his work (modernist influences, couple with elements of Bauhaus-style ...). That said, I can tell you what I find appealing about his work. To my eyes, Hill's work is immensely appealing for his innovative use of perspective - some of his railroad posters offer stunningly original perspectives. You simply look at the work and find yourself marveling over how did he ever come up with that creative angle. His work includes bright and bold colors and innovative use of lighting. When I look at a Hill image, there's a cleanness, precision, and simplicity to his work. Nobody has to explain to me what I'm actually looking at. Maybe this sounds goofy, but his images are safe and comforting - they seemingly capture a simpler, if bygone time.  That's particularly true for his travel posters that manage to capture a distinctive '50s feel. As mentioned, the bulk of his work falls into two broad categories; train posters and airline/tourism posters.

 

Probably his best known client was General Motor's Electro-Motive Division which manufactured heavy duty locomotives.  Hill's works were apparently originally commissioned as covers for Railway Age Magazine.  Between 1950 and 1956 he reported completed 65 railway themes paintings (I've also seen a list with 38 poster titles.)  I don't know how many, but at least twenty two of his works were then turned into high quality promotional posters.  Unfortunately for Hill, while his work won raves for artistic merit, they apparently left at least some members of Electro-Motive's management staff unhappy.  The company's displeasure seemingly stemmed from a feeling their product was being upstaged by Hill's gorgeous settings - after all, who cared about a locomotive when it was surrounded by breathtaking vistas and snow capped mountains?

 

For what it's worth, internet searches seem to bring up photos of the same four posters time after time, so I spent a little time trying to get images of some of Hill's more obscure posters.  A mentioned, one on-line reference indicates Hill created a total of 65  paintings during the 1950 - 1956 timeframe.  If that's true, I'm clearly missing many of them, since I've only been able to track down 21 of the railway themed posters.  Where possible, I've annotated recent sales and auction prices, though I would underscore prices are very subjective, reflecting poster condition, publicity surrounding the sale (how many people knew about it and bid), etc.   Again, these prices are not meant to serve as a price guide for Hill's work.

 

If I had to pick one category to collect, I'd go with the trains. As it turns out, based on sales prices, collectors value the train poster as well. Anyhow, I've collected images of as many of Hill's work as I can find (I'm always looking for new items). Based on auction sales, eBay sales, etc. I've also included recent sales prices for select items. Keep in mind, prices are subject to all sorts of factors, including condition, rarity, time of day, etc. I strongly suggest you do your own research rather than relying on these prices for any purchases. I'm always happy to add biographical material and images of Hill's work (with credit to contributors), so if you have information you'd be willing to share, feel free to send it to me. Scott RDTEN1@aol.com

 

I'm frequently asked if I have a favorite print.  Frankly I find all of Hill's work intriguing, but if I had to save two or three from a house fire, I'd go for The Capitol Cities Route, The Seaboard Route, and The Santa Fe posters.  Ask me the same question tomorrow and I'm liable to give you a different answer.

 

I'm also asked if I have any Hill posters for sale.  From time to time I do, but be forewarned, Hill's become a collectable commodity.  Currently I have four available:

 

- Lehigh Valley Railroad Route of the Black Diamond - price $800 (framed)  two copies available

- Cotton Belt Railway Famous Blue Streak Freight Service - price $700 (framed)

 

 

  recent additions:

 

  2012

- 09/12/2012 added airline and tourist posters

- 10/28/2012 changed fonts to 12 pitch to improve legibility

- 10/29/2012 added new railroad poster image - GM&O (never seen this one before)

- 11/27/2012 added new railroad poster image - C&EI

- 11/27/2012 added new railroad poster image - Chicago - Milwaukee - St. Paul and Pacific

- 12/24/2012 added new railroad poster image - Rio Grande thanks to Steve Swirsky for the Rio Grande photo

- 12/29/2012 added new railroad poster image - Great Western Streamlined for Freight

- 12/29/2012 added new railroad poster image - M - K - T Katy Station, San Antonio, Texas

 

   2013

- 03/10/2013 added new railroad poster image - Missouri Pacific (courtesy of Anita Friedmann - see email below)

- 03/18/2013 added new railroad poster image - Central Georgia (courtesy of Anita Friedmann - see email below)

 

   2014

- 01/19/2014 added new railroad poster image - Midwestern Freight

- 05/27/2014 added new railroad poster image - B&O

 

recent mails:

Hi,

II saw your website with the Bern Hill illustrations -- you have the largest collection I've seen.  I've just written my first novel about the Santa Fe Super Chief and I've been trying for months to find out how I could get permission to use the image from Santa Fe - The Chief Way, for the front cover.  I've contacted GM and BNSF to see if they have the rights but they say they do not.  I cannot find anything about his estate or who to contact to get permission to use one of his images.  Do you have any ideas?


Thanks, Doug Folsom 

October 2012

 

 

 

 

Greetings from a fellow Bern Hill collector! Itís great to read your website. My husband and I have 30 of his EMD posters so there are at least three others that you are missing on your site (Central of Georgia, Missouri Pacific and one other that I canít think of off the top of my head). Iíll check ours and send you pix of the three others if you are interested. For what itís worth, weíve never come across more than the 30 individual EMD posters but weíre always on the lookout for others. Hereís a picture of the Missouri Pacific.
Do you know Greg Palumbo? Heís the person on the Antiques Roadshow segment. He is very knowledgeable about Bern Hill and the EMD posters. He may know about the rights for Santa Feís The Chief Way that was asked about on your site. If you are interested in contacting him, Iíll be happy to send you his e-mail. Below is a spreadsheet created by Greg of the covers and posters that he found.
Anita Friedmann, March 2013

 

 

 

 


   

 

Frisco Railway

Serving the Southeast and Southwest

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$1,500 eBay - November 2012 (did not sell)

$600 Poster Connections Inc. - April 2006

 

 

 

 

 

Western Pacific Railway

See More on the Visa Dome California Zephyr

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

 

 

 

Texas and Pacific Railway

Route of the Eagle

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$1,100 - Swann Galleries November 2011

 


 

Capitol City Routes

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$1,200 eBay - November 2012

$1,400 Swann Galleries - August 2011 

$1,700 Swann Galleries - November 2008 

 

 

 

 

 

Monon Rrailway

At the Crossroads of America

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$950 Swann Galleries - November 2012 

 

Soo Line

Ship and Travel via Soo Line

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$860 eBay - September 2012 

$800 - Poster Connections Inc. April 2005

 


 

Seaboard Railroad

Route of the Silver Fleet

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$1,600 Swann Galleries November 2009

 

 

 

 

Wahbash Railroad

St. Louis to Chicago on the "Blue Bird"

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$820 eBay - September 2012 

 

Jersey Central Railway

The Big Little Railroad

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$1,800 Swann Galleries November 2009

$750 Poster Connections Inc. - April 2005

 

 


 

Illinois Central Line

The 100 Year Line of Middle America

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock Island 

Rockets Are In Action

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$1,200 eBay - October 2012

$1,500 eBay - August 2012

 

L&N Railroad

Louisville & Nashville - The Old Reliable

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$950 Swann Galleries - November 2012

$800 eBay - September 2012 

$2,200 Swann Galleries - November 2010 

$1,200 Swann Galleries November 2009

 


 

Burlington Route

Ride the Burlington Vista-Dome Zephyrs

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$1,200 Swann Galleries November 2009

 

 

 

 

 

The Minneapolis and St Louis Railway Co.

Fast Freight Service In The Great Midwest.

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$2,600 Swann Galleries - November 2010 

 

The Bangor and Aroosock Railway

The Aroostook Flyer - Deluxe Service for Business or Pleasure

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$599 eBay - October 2012

$700 Swann Galleries - August 2012

$850 Swann Galleries - November 2010 

 


 

Erie Railway

Scenic Routes of the East

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$1,500 Swann Galleries - November 2010 

 

 

Cotton Belt Railway

Famous Blue Streak Freight Service

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$600 private sale - September 2012

 

 

Santa Fe

The Chief Way

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$1,750 eBay - November 2012

$3,200 Swann Galleries November 2011

 


 

North Western Railway

Smooth Going Travel At It's Finest

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

didn't sell - Swann Galleries November 2012

 

 

 

Great Northern Railway

Empire Builder In Montana Rockies

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$850 - Swann Galleries November 2011

 

 

Lehigh Valley Railroad

Route of the Black Diamond

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$3,200 - Swann Galleries November 2011

 


GM&O

Serving Two Gulf Ports - Mobile and New Orleans

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

didn't sell - Swann Galleries November 2012

$765 eBay - October 2012

 

 

C&EI

Dependable Freight and Passenger Service

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

 

Chicago - Milwaukee - St. Paul and Pacific

Seeing the Colorful Northwest

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

 


Rio Grande.

 In the Royal Gorge of the Colorado River

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

 

 

 

Great Western

Streamlined for Freight

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$850 - Swann Galleries November 2012

 

 

M - K - T

Katy Station, San Antonio,Texas

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

$800 - Swann Galleries November 2012

 


Missouri Pacific.

Route of the Eagles ...  West Southwest

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

 

Central Georgia.

Ride Streamliners Man O' War and Nancy Hanks

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

 

Great Midwest

Fast Freight Service In the Midwest

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

 


B&O

America's First Railroad

24 x 18 in

 

recent sales:

 


   

 

American Airlines

New England

30 x 40 in

 

recent sales:

$300 Swann Galleries - August 2011

$750 Swann Galleries - June 2006

 

 

 

 

 

American Airlines

Virginia

30 x 40 in

 

recent sales:

$150  eBay - August 2012

 

 

American Airlines

Virginia

30 x 40 in

 

recent sales:

$495 eBay - November 2012 (did not sell)

$250  eBay - August 2012


 

Chesapeake & Ohio Railway

Washington

37 1/2 x 27 1/2 in

 

recent sales:

 

 

 

Chesapeake & Ohio Railway

Charlottesville

37 1/2 x 27 1/2 in

 

recent sales:

 

 

Chesapeake & Ohio Railway

Virginia Seashore

37 1/2 x 27 1/2 in

 

recent sales:

 


Chesapeake & Ohio Railway

Washington

37 1/2 x 27 1/2 in

 

recent sales:

 

 

 

 

Chesapeake & Ohio Railway

Richmond

37 1/2 x 27 1/2 in

 

recent sales:

$354 - eBay July 2011

 

 

I'm not certain this is a Hill effort (it certainly looks like it).  If so, I'm guessing it is one of his early-1970s architectural drawings


 

Liv-Aboard Cruises

Furness Bermuda

30 x 40 in

 

recent sales:

$720 - Swann Galleries April 2010

$4,600 - Bloomsbury Auctions  November 2009

 

 

 

Liv-Aboard Cruises

Furness Bermuda

30 x 40 in

 

recent sales:

 

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